Do you remember the many Christmas traditions from our grandparents’ day, such as a good sing-a-long around a piano or a campfire? Nobody needs to have a voice like Adele’s to enjoy the simple pleasure – and good health – that comes when we sing our hearts out with others.
Research has shown that when you sing in a choir, your heartbeat synchronises with those of the other choir members. A 2013 study, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that heart rates and breath became calmer and more regular, a state associated with good physical health and reduced stress. Other established health benefits include improved lung function, better immune responses and improved cognitive function. A combined Harvard and Yale study in 2008 found it can even increase life expectancy.
If you speak with people in a choir, you are likely to hear how it makes them feel euphoric, ecstatic, elated and many other descriptors that imply the soul has touched the heavens. Science uses words such as endorphins (the body’s natural opiates) and oxytocin (aka ‘the love hormone’) to help explain the feel-good phenomenon. In the journal Evolutionary Psychology, a 2012 study confirmed, “It is the active performance of music that generates the endorphin high.”
In a 2010 study titled “The significance of choral singing for sustaining psychological wellbeing: findings from a survey of choristers in England, Australia and Germany”, one respondent said: “I had a full-time panic attack last week. Tried some swimming exercises, which made it worse – then sang in the car for half an hour. By the end my heart rate and breathing had returned to normal, neck and shoulders relaxed, stomach unknotted. Generally find it unwinds and relaxes me. I always feel ‘looser’ after rehearsals.”
If you’re convinced you shouldn’t join a choir because someone told you once you can’t sing, then take to heart that it really doesn’t matter. A 2005 study published in the Psychology of Music reported that group singing and performance, at the most amateur levels of musicality, yielded considerable emotional, social and cognitive benefits. You can sing simply for the joy of it, and you’re likely to make new friends to boot.
A 2015 study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, found that when you sing in a group you tend to bond more quickly compared to when you do other activities such as craft or creative writing classes. The study concluded, “Singing breaks the ice so that individuals feel closer to the group as a whole, even if they do not yet know anything about the individual members.” When you sing in a choir the focus tends to be on the group rather than the individual which, for some, may be a welcome change from the constant call to be number one in our often-competitive society.